POST 1: Tribal Belly Dancing

Belly Dance Origins

Most belly dancers tend to believe in at least one of many theories explaining how belly dancing originated. The most popular theory is that it evolved from a religious dance. Some people believe that it descended from early Egyptian dances, or from the migration of Gypsies from India. Another popular theory is that belly dance began as a traditional birthing practice to help ease the pains of childbirth.

Today, belly dance is enjoyed throughout the world and is taught in almost every country. Belly dancing offers an instant community of friends for women of all ages who find joy in music and movement. Belly dance creates self-confidence, as women learning the art often gain a sense of empowerment and self-discovery through artistic self-expression. Although many enthusiasts perform for modest income, the majority of belly dancers find the dance form to be a great source of exercise and a means of socialization.

   Tribal dance forms are rooted  in a movement in the US in the 70’s, mainly driven by “folkloric” groups performing at Renaissance Faires in California.  Drawing it’s movements, costuming, and general inspiration from the tribal cultures of the Near East, Middle East, Northern Africa/Maghreb, and Spain, the then-named “California Tribal” bellydance was, and it’s current incarnations continue to be, a conglomeration of many different influences, not the least of which being what we recognize as traditional bellydance (Raqs Sharki/Danse Orientale…).   The precursor to tribal improvisational bellydance, the Rennaisance Faire groups such as the famous “Bal Anat” (above-left) and lesser known but still pivotal “Bou-Saada”, largely performed cabaret stylings, but in “fake-loric” costuming. It is commonly known that, as unromantic as it sounds to tribal bellydance historians, these dancers who hit the Ren Faires by day simply changed costumes and danced the night away at the restaurants. They were cabaret dancers in Ren Faire drag, if you will.
There were some obvious differences which reveal this style to be stylistic acestors of some styles of tribal we know today, the most obvious of which being the costuming. The idea of using earthy, ethnic textiles, coins, many layers, very full pantaloons, and headwraps/turbans began with this style. Non-synthesized music was also a staple, being that many performances were done outdoors in a themed venue. And the idea of chorus, previously a balletic concept to most, was introduced to the bellydance world. Individual dancers or small groups of dancers would be featured in front, while the other dancers would perform or clap or generally play “moving backdrop” to the featured performers. And lastly, one will find that the terminology of ATS closely resembles that of the Jamilla Salimpour format, though not in its entirety, and the execution of the moves has evolved separately over the years.


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